We're from the private sector, and we're here to help

And you thought telework was a hard nut for federal agencies to crack. Wait until they take on customer service.

Still reeling from Washington’s snow-packed winter wonderland, which effectively crippled the federal government for about two weeks even while most businesses found ways to keep their operations humming, the Obama administration is asking the private sector for tips on how to improve productivity, technology and customer service.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order April 19 that created a President’s Management Advisory Board, to which he will name 17 top executives from leading corporations and associations. The board's chairman will be Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, who also carries the newly created title of chief performance officer.

The board will offer advice and recommendations to the White House on how government agencies can improve their operations, such as paying close attention to productivity, applying technology well and giving the public good customer service.

“The new board is an outgrowth of a January White House powwow with some of the nation's top business executives, including the leaders and founders of Angie's List, Craigslist, Facebook, J. Crew, Liz Claiborne and Whirlpool,” wrote Ed O’Keefe in his “Federal Eye” blog at the Washington Post. “Obama called on them at the meeting to share their tips on how to make the government more nimble and customer-friendly.”

White House bean counters are clearly hoping the private sector’s emphasis on productivity will rub off. “It used to be that a federal worker had more computing power and prowess at their desk than at home; now, they often have more power in their BlackBerry or iPhone than at their desk," wrote OMB Director Peter Orszag in his blog on Whitehouse.gov.

“I wish them well,” commented reader Beel in response to the news story on FCW.com. “Not to be too jaded, but I've seen/heard this time and again since I became a fed in 1980. There’s a fancy report given with much fanfare — then....seems like the government treats any problem by: identifying it, attacking it, dropping it."

The reader concluded: "Maybe it’ll be different this time.”

— Edited by David Rapp

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